Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding a Dog Trainer

The "all you will ever need" guide to dog training.

First, let us recognize that there are tons of different trainers and training methods out there. It would be naive to ignore this fact. So first, let's break down what dog training is, and what elements you want to embrace as you train your dog.
What dog training is:
-Communication between you and your dog.
-Getting your dog to behave in a manner that works with your lifestyle.
-Teaching your dog to perform behaviors that are useful for day to day life.
Then there is also training for specified elements:
-Teaching your dog to be a working dog (there are many different uses for dogs including, herding, hunting, tracking, protection, searching, being a therapy dog, being a service dog, etc.)
-Teaching your dog to excel in dog sports such as agility, obedience, dock diving, flyball, ect.
-There are many different tasks dogs can fulfill, but let's focus here on the "pet dog" and what we expect from them:

1) The primary debate you will see amongst dog trainers is Positive versus Aversive.
    -it is actually often hard to tell which is which because terms are thrown around quite loosely in the dog training world.

 Positive reinforcement training means working with rewards* to tell your dog they are doing the right thing.
    -*Aversive training means correcting your dog for doing something you don't want them to do.

If you are confused at this point I wouldn't be surprised, as most trainers use a combination of both in their training methodology.

The important elements to consider are; what are the rewards, and what are the aversives?
-Many trainers define their methods based on how intense their rewards or aversives are, but most use both to differing degrees.

-*For the most part, positive reinforcement trainers utilize treats, toys, play, and praise to reward dogs for good behavior.

-*For the most part, aversive trainers utilize choke chains, prongs collars, shock collars (e-collars), to correct bad behaviors.

Many trainers use a combination of both theories in their work, and will label themselves based on whichever theory they want to embrace most.

To be fair:
-Purely positive reinforcement trainers do NOT use aversives. They reward good behaviors and ignore or prevent bad behaviors.
-Purely aversive trainers do not use rewards, they correct bad behaviors and the dog learns to avoid punishment by doing good behaviors.

Most trainers fall somewhere in the middle, but there is rarely a breakdown like this for the common pet owner to understand the differences between the two.

The first question that a dog owner must encounter when training their dog, is which element is most important to them.

There are positive and negative elements on both sides.

I will try here to be as partial as I can be, but I am a positive reinforcement based trainer, so I will forewarn that my opinion may be jaded...to give a bit of background, I used to be much more of an aversive trainer until I worked with hundreds (as a conservative estimate...but it is more likely that I have worked with thousands. It is hard to estimate the numbers over they years) of dogs, did research, and found that positive reinforcement was the method that I felt most comfortable and successful with. 
 
Why "I" chose positive reinforcement over aversive techniques.
-I had regularly used aversive techniques, and for the most part had very good results before I chose to change my ways. I understand the immediate results that aversives can create, and for awhile I was very happy with those results.  However, I found myself in a few dilemmas.  1) some dogs would not respond...they would shut down and be worse than ever.  2) although I could gain compliance through aversives, I could not build new and better behaviors, and I could not encourage the dog to do other things when they were afraid of the possible punishment. 

I also found that the aversives would often lead to side effects for some dogs; distrust in their handler, wariness to try new behaviors, lack of motivation, and ultimately shut down during training. Aversives could also lead to aggressiveness in the presence of a stimuli which led to corrections. For example; if a dog growled when a person approached, and was corrected, they could often suppress the growling behavior, but then, the person approaching could interpret that the dog was friendly, and then would approach the dog in am overwhelming manner (thinking the dog is friendly), leading to the dog becoming uncomfortable enough to BITE. This is much more dangerous than a dog who growls as a warning.
This is a huge part of the reasoning behind why I changed my methods.
I prefer a dog who wants to work, and enjoys working. I also like to spend my time with a dog who enjoys being with me as much as I enjoy being with them.
**As a quick side note; be wary of trainers who show off their skills with videos, or examples, of only certain breeds; aversive training was created during World War 2, and intended to be used on certain breeds of dogs; those who were "harder" and acclimated well to punishment. There were, and still are, breeding programs who intentionally pick "hard" or "tolerant" dogs to work well with these methods.
The breeds generally used (but not limited to) are: German Shepherds, Belgian Malinios (or any of the Belgian breeds, including the variation of the shepherd, being Tervuren, and others), Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, American Pit Bull, and many other breeds intended for protection. If you find impressive videos of trainers working with ONLY these breeds, be wary that they are using dogs who are intentionally bred for intense obedience work (and often bred to accept corrections easily), and this may not work for other dogs. Look for trainers who show results with MANY different kinds of dogs, not just the ones who are bred to work.
***another side note; be wary of any trainer who says that they "only" train a certain breed. All trainers have preferences, and we all have breeds that we is prefer to work with, but all dogs work essentially in the same way...if a trainer says that they "only" work with one breed, it is likely because they have only worked with that one breed, and that means that they have limited knowledge of dogs in general. Even though breeds have certain characteristics, there are always exceptions, and if a dog is not the typical representation of their breed, your trainer should still understand how to deal with them.

-Aversive trainers can often get quick results. An intense correction can quickly stop a behavior. These trainers will often tell you that positive reinforcement, or "cookie trainers" will only be able to get your dog to behave via bribes with treats, and that you can't get results without the treats.
   •this debate is a difficult one; a good positive reinforcement trainer will explain how to quickly fade off of the treat lure, but let's explore both correction and reward based training, and the fading away from training tools.
     -if you train a dog with treats, you do need to spend time fading the lure in order to order to get a reliable behavior.
     -however, if you train a dog with leash corrections, you also need to spend time fading off of the leash corrections in order to get your dog to respond without a leash correction. 
**both methods require fading away from the original training method in order to have a finalized behavior. So, there is little difference in how these methods result in the ultimate behavior.  Both require practice in order to create a reliable end result.  This is true of any behavior in obedience, with both methods. 

To be even in my evaluation:
-Positive punishment with a SKILLED trainer is very likely to quickly get your dog to behave. A swift punishment will often result in compliance. Sometimes, these results will stick, and the dog will avoid performing the behaviors for fear of punishment.
**even though I train with primarily positive reinforcement, depending on the case, I will sometimes bring in elements of positive punishment. I never use physical pain, but will occasionally implement sound aversion or verbal corrections, and even "body blocking" to help the dog understand the end result. I DO NOT utilize elements of physical pain such as correction collars for this, but positive punishment covers a wide variety of elements. I am always very careful to only introduce these methods to dogs who have clearly shown the kind of personality that can handle it. 

As for aggressive issues: I will admit, it is much easier to give harsh corrections and get immediate results. I can correct a dog into enough fear that they are likely to not be reactive or aggressive, but I have never really changed how they feal about the thing they are uncomfortable with.
If a trainer corrects a dog enough, they are likely to remain still and "obedient" in the presence of the stimuli, but I also know from experience that they have created a ticking time bomb that can go off at any moment, as the dog has never dealt with the issue, only suppressed their reaction to it.
I spend much of my career dealing with dogs who have already experienced this kind of training, and I need to back track in order to build confidence and retrain good behavior. 
I can say, without hesitation, that the most troublesome dogs I work with are those who have gone through intensive aversive training for problem behaviors, and then come to me. These dogs are always the most dangerous cases I work with, as they often show no signs of discomfort, but then react with extreme results. These dogs no longer growl, bark, or lunge, but instead BITE, and often redirect their aggression to anything nearby (often the handler).  These are the dogs who require the MOST rehabilitation, as they have learned that whatever they are uncomfortable with results in punishment, and therefore requires them to react more intensly to keep the trigger away. If the stimuli means that they may be punished, they will often become more intense about trying to ward it off.
**For all those who will argue about their success with these methods, I will agree that some dogs have been corrected to the point of tolerating anything, and never reacting, however, I still wouldn't trust this dog, as you have only corrected them into a level of fear that they dare not come out of. And, this dog may never react again, but truly, a dog who has been punished into this level of fear is not one who I would wish to spend my life with, as you have created merely a shell of a dog, who operates only with an intention to not impose punishment, and although this dog may seem "cured" I would never trust him, as fear is a dangerous thing, and can result in outrage at any moment. Many dogs are put to sleep because they attacked "out of nowhere" and this is often the result of suppressed anxiety or fear.
This is truly the difference between positive reinforcement, and positive punishment training. 
To have a complete understanding  of these methods, we must understand that if positive punishment is harsh enough, it will often stop the dog's "reaction" (resulting in a positive experience for the owner and trainer, after all, it's very nice to see our dog stop lunging and barking at people or dogs). If this occurs we are likely to have a dog who seems, by all means, to have overcome their issues, and no longer be aggressive towards the stimuli. However, if we delve into our understanding of behavior, we realize that all we have done is suppress the negative behavior. If we suppress one negative behavior, without addressing the issue, we are likely to see this behavior pop up in different areas, just as we do with humans, and other animals.  This is why positive punishment can be so dangerous.

I will take a moment here to address the many people who will argue this point.
It is difficult to understand the difference between the two methods for two major reasons:
1) positive punishment shows such quick results that it is hard to undermine the method's success. We can quickly see the dog stop the behavior, so it makes perfect sense that the method is working.  The side effects often display themselves after the fact, and not in the same way that the original issue was presented, leading the owner to believe it is unrelated.
In the same element:
2) positive reinforcement is a process that takes time, and because we are changing the way that the dog thinks and feels about something, it is easy to misinterpret the results of this training as external, and not connected to the training at all.

**let me give an example;
-a young child tries to reach towards the stove to attain an early taste of the dinner meal. The child's hand is quickly slapped and the child walks away (likely feeling a bit angry or hurt for the slap, but nonetheless, not burned).
-a young child tries to reach toward the stove and his parent stops him, explains that if he reaches for the food before it is served to him he will be badly burned and experience pain. The parent explains that if he would like a taste of the food before hand, he should ask, but likely, he will still have to wait until he is served his dinner. The disobedience in order to gain a reward is likely to be more painful than it is worth.
**both will likely result in the child not reaching for the stove, but the second scenario is more likely to prevent him from trying it again. The first scenario gave him no information, and so gives him no reason to stop the behavior, other than the fear of pain (being slapped), and so he is likely to try again when the punisher (parent) is not present.

This example is stipulated on the use of having a common language, but we have already established that good dog training establishes a kind of communication, and therefore can work in a very similar way. 

It took awhile, but these elements lead me to try different methods to experience a different relationship with my dog.

We are all doing our best as dog trainers. We all want to help, and we have all come from different education backgrounds to get to the point of being a trainer.
There is no degree given for dog training, so our profession relies heavily on experience and character/personality.
There is a ton of education for dog trainers, through research studies, books about training, seminars, ect.
However, some of the most successful trainers out there are not those who go to these great lengths for their own knowledge.
Sometimes trainers become popular and successful purely because of their charisma. They have a personality that draws people in, or they are bossy and demanding which often misleads people into the idea that they are very knowledgable. 
Many trainers will tell you that you have to do it their way, and it's convincing because they are so certain of their methods. 
But please, don't feed into some jargon just because it seems reasonable, or because the trainer is pushy. 
Dog training is very logical, it makes sense if you think about it. There is nothing "magical", "mystical", or "amazing" when it comes to dog training.
I could easily "stop" your dog from performing a bad behavior because I "mystically" scare them into stopping the behavior.

When you interview a trainer:
-Ask them about their experience:
  •have they trained many dogs?
  •what kinds of issues have they dealt with?
  •do they compete with their dogs in dog sports (are they involved in the "dog world")?
  •MOST IMPORTANTLY: how do they feel about THEIR OWN dogs? Are their dogs a member of their family? Do they love their dogs? ***this is the most important question in my opinion, because there are many trainers out there who don't care much about their own dogs, but just like to "train" dogs as a means to make $$ and fulfill their own ego. If they can't tell you about their own relationship with their dog, RUN the other way, they are not worth your time! 


My own opinion:
As I have stated before...it isn't hard. In fact, I could stun people with how quickly I can get results, but I know that positve punishment (aversive) results would not be worthwhile, because I would have to scare the dog, or make them fearful enough to not perform those behaviors again. This is not the kind of training I prefer.
If I only wanted to suck out money from my clients I could easily show quick results, and have them pay me for my apparent "magical" results.
But I am honest, I am a realist, and above all, I want people to have the relationship with their dogs that I have with my own.
To get this, it takes time, effort, and love to build a relationship.
I could easily get you to have a dog who "behaves" for fear of punishment, but that's not what I want. Because I know there is something better.
If all that you want is a dog who obeys you, cowers to you, is afraid of you, and therefore listens to your every command, I could give this to you...but I won't. Go find a trainer you cares more about their status, about money, or about dominating another.
Come to me if you want to build a better relationship, realize the amazing bond that can be had between a human and a dog.  
Just because I CAN get a dog to behave because I force them to, doesn't mean that I want to do that, and more so, I have been working with animals for so long, and understand why I do, and what I do it for, that I will not appease a person by lowering my ethics to get a dog to behave against their will.
There are many trainers out there who will, and many who will argue that I am naive, or sentimental, or soft, by believing in something different.
If you, as a dog owner, prefer to have a dog who behaves through fear, then by all means, do so. You can live with this knowledge, I cannot.
I have been there, and I regret every day that I put my dogs through so much negativity before realizing that I didn't have to. 
Every issue I have come up with in dog behavior has been better dealt with through positive reinforcement. 
I have experienced owners, and other trainers, who believe that certain breeds (especially large dogs), cannot be trained with positive reinforcement. This is BS in my opinion. I have worked with every type of dog, and I love large breeds, I love protection dogs, and breeds who are regarded as "difficult" or "extremely hard" or "strong". Ask my clients. Some of my favorite breeds are the giant ones (Go Great Danes! And Mastiffs!), and I have never had an issue training them with positive reinforcement. In fact, I get more people believing that it's the little ones who can't be trained, because trainers have told them that they can't use correction collars (good call because they have sensitive little necks!), and come to me because they have out of control small dogs (meet my miniature dachshund who wins every time he is in the Rally-O ring!). 
All dogs can be trained using positive reinforcement, and for that matter, so can all exotic animals; ask their trainers, or zoo keepers, what kinds of methods they use!
The only set back has been the owners; impatient with results, reluctant to do the work, or just plain stubborn about the fact that their dog SHOULD behave the way they want them to without using rewards.

Unfortunately, we have created a popular belief in American society that dogs should behave because they "respect" us. This is a misled understanding of dogs, as they are not humans, and do not have an understanding of "respect" as we do.
What we interpret as "respect" is unfortunately fear. And you can look it up, there are an amazing amount of research articles that back up this statement.
If you are stubborn enough to not believe me, and subscribe to aversive training techniques, then by all means, do so. But, before you do, think long and hard about why you are. It's a hard realization, one that I had to come to, to discover that my preference to punish a dog and get him to do as I told, was not about good training, but instead about my fulfillment in controlling another.
I discovered that this was not training...when I discovered what training was, I changed my methods.
Many people will not want to read beyond this point because it is hard to acknowledge that there is an unfortunate amount of satisfaction in getting another being to listen to us just because we say so, and because we punish them into fearing us.  The truth is, they aren't doing it out of love...if it is forced, through punishment, it is being done out of fear.

As I always stipulate, I require that my dogs follow a strict set of rules in my household, but this is gained by teaching them what I want, and preventing them from practicing unwanted behaviors. You can see these results in the many videos I post on YouTube. 

I would like to say that I will take on any client who contacts me, and I have many times turned people away from harsher methods because I show them how quickly I can get results through positive reinforcement.

However, I have enough recommendations, and a stellar reputation, that I have lost the urge to argue about the way I train, and to try and convince people to treat their dogs with respect.

If you can read this post and decide that you still want to use harsh and/or abusive tactics to train your dog, don't call me. I don't have the patience to argue with someone about why I train with the methods I do, and if you can't understand them, and want to go to someone who will quickly abuse your dog into compliance, then by all means, do.
I will spend my meditation sending good thoughts to your dog and hope that they can overcome your anger, ego, superiority, and that of your trainer, and still enjoy their life. 
If you wish to experience a better relationship with your dog, and understand how to get them through and psychological issues that they may have, please call me, as this is my passion in life; to encourage the beauty of the human animal relationship, and to support it's growth through training.

This is possible, if you take the time.
And the rewards are phenomenal if you are willing to put in the work.

Thank you for reading,
KatherineK9



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